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Mining mafia gains as Punjab fails to adopt Centre’s strict mining law

Representative pic: Colossal mining operations at a site in Punjab

Chandigarh: Punjab government has failed to adopt the country’s new amended mining and minor minerals Act of 2015 that is likely to help the accused in over 10000 pending cases which include a nephew of former Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and other politically influential people.

Parliament amended the mining and minor minerals Act of 1957 making it more stringent by enhancing imprisonment from 2 years to 5 years and increasing the fine from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, for those convicted of violation of the law.

Under the amended Act the states were to notify the setting up of special courts headed by Sessions Judges to try the accused. Previously, Judicial Magistrates, who are far more junior, were authorised to conduct a trial of the accused.

Even after 7 years of the new amended Act being passed no steps have been taken to implement it by successive Punjab governments headed by Parkash Singh Badal, Captain Amarinder Singh, Charanjit Singh Channi and now Bhagwant Mann.

It is common knowledge that large-scale illegal sand and gravel mining was orchestrated by legislators and ministers of the SAD-BJP and Congress regimes. The most highlighted case of illegal mining and money laundering was that of Bhupinder Singh Honey, a nephew of former Congress Chief Minister Channi, who was arrested on February 4, 2022. The Enforcement Directorate recovered a sum of Rs 10 crore in hard cash from his residence.

On November 11, Rakesh Chaudhry, a multi-millionaire mining contractor was arrested by Ropar police in an illegal sand mining case. An old horse who still controls many mining sites in Punjab, Chaudhry has been in the business since the days of the Congress government.

A public prosecutor explains that those booked under the provisions of the unamended mining and minor minerals Act of 1957 stand to benefit as they could be sentenced to a maximum of 2 years of imprisonment and fined not more than Rs 2 lakh.

According to sources, sand mining in the garb of desilting is continuing at many places in the state despite the High Court’s stay orders. The State Environment Impact Assessment Authority – functioning under the Union Environment Ministry – has not given clearance to the state government for carrying out mining at several sites.

During the Congress regime, Punjab was divided into 7 mining blocks out of which only 4 are operational at present. The AAP government after assuming power terminated contracts for 3 blocks namely Ferozepur, Moga, Fazilka (block number 3), Amritsar, Taran Tarn, Kapurthala (block number 5) and Mohali, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib (block number 7). This has resulted in litigation between contractors and the government.

Senior advocate Atul Lakhanpal says the mining mafia is still operating in Punjab. Not more than 10 percent of the total revenue that the government could earn, is coming to the public exchequer at present.

Raj Kumar Taneja, a Zira-based mining contractor reveals that the present high cost of sand is due to a tussle between 7 mining-cluster-holding-contractors and the Punjab government. The efforts of the new government to streamline and eradicate corruption in the mining trade have been blocked by the filing of time-consuming court cases by contractors who were propped up by the Congress government.

Taneja further maintained that for the last many years the mining business in the state remained mainly in the hands of a few politically connected contractors. He mentions the names of Rakesh Chaudhary of Jammu, Ashok Kumar Chandok of Ganganagar, Mohan Pal Singh of Amritsar, Manpreet Singh Kokan of Chandigarh, and Raju Chadha of Delhi.

A majority of these contractors flourished when Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria alias Sukh Sarkaria was the cabinet minister for mining in the Captain Amarinder Singh government.